Sports can teach us a lot about nonprofit storytelling. In this episode, we’re looking at two examples of sports using storytelling to reach people and to teach people – two things all nonprofits need to do. Formula One uses storytelling to fuel explosive growth into new markets, and we’ll also look at how ESPN uses sports to shine a light on issues of life and death.
As a missionary, as a ministry or nonprofit leader, you are doing important work, but a lot of that work just doesn’t seem to catch on with the people you’re trying to reach. Sports can have a similar problem. There is always inherent drama in a good sports matchup, but not everybody is into the game itself.
Who are these people? What in the world are they doing? And why? Why would I watch something I don’t understand?
Formula 1 racing used to be a sport enjoyed almost exclusively by older, well-off European males. Complex rules, complicated courses, and a format that makes it hard to follow all meant the sport was just too difficult for a casual observer to enjoy. But recently, TV viewership for races has exploded, F1 events are selling out, and the stands are filled with new fans. Women are in the crowd–and young people. What happened?
The key driver behind the explosion of F1 racing into new markets is storytelling.
Drive to Survive is a Netflix show about the people behind Formula 1 racing. The show focuses on the characters–drivers and billionaire owners–and gives us an insider’s view. There is very little actual racing. The narrative introduces the sport to us a little at a time.
As these stories unfold, people become more familiar with the sport and its key players. They begin to care about the people involved. They gain a basic understanding of the rules. They can follow along.
Isn’t this what we want for our supporters, too?
ESPN’s 30 for 30: Pink Card tells the story of women in Iran and their love for soccer–and their quest for freedom. The series is about the injustices faced by women in Iran, as illustrated by the struggle of female soccer fans fighting for the right to attend soccer matches at the national stadium.
These sports shows do the same things your stories have to do: provide a gradual, understandable explanation of your mission without sensationalizing or trivializing it, and without alientating long-time supporters. (Okay, these shows might sensationalize…but I hope you won’t.)
Just as people interested in the “characters” who drive F1 race cars can learn about Formula 1 racing by watching stories on Netflix, soccer fans can learn about gender inequality and human rights abuses by listening to four episodes of the 30 for 30 podcast. With stories, outsiders can gain awareness about your cause, understand why your work is important, and how they can get involved.
Storytelling builds bridges.
Storytelling is what takes people who don’t know about your mission and moves them–step by step–into a supporting role.
There are many reasons to write, but when we are writing to move someone to action, we must be crystal clear. In this episode, you’ll learn three questions to help ensure you’re communicating clearly.
I recently attended the Hope Words conference for writers, where one of the speakers was Katherine Paterson. Mrs. Paterson is the author of over 40 books and the recipient of many awards for her writing, including two Newberry Medals. She told us about a time when she got a note from her long-time editor about a certain paragraph. She had taken great care with this paragraph and she held it dear.
The editor’s note said, “It’s beautiful, Katherine, but what does it mean?”
As a writer, I feel the pain of having something I’ve labored over being misunderstood or torn apart. As an editor, I know it’s a question that must be asked.
All our beautiful writing and storytelling is worthless if it isn’t clear.
To be clear in our nonprofit writing, we must answer three key questions:
What is happening?
What does it mean?
What do you want me to do about it?
By answering these questions, you can provide context for your message and make it clear what action you want your readers to take.
The Fundraising Super Bowl is your nonprofit’s big game – and winning looks like raising the funds you need to serve. Here are some lessons from that “other” big game.
In 1961, on the first day of training camp for the Green Bay Packers, coach Vince Lombardi stepped in front of his team. These players were some of the best in the game, but their previous season had ended with a heartbreaking 4th quarter loss in the Championship game.
Coach Lombardi held up a ball.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “this is a football.”
They started training camp with the fundamentals of the game. Blocking. Tackling. Every small thing. The basics.
Lombardi never lost in the playoffs again – the Super Bowl trophy? It’s called the Vince Lombardi trophy.
But even the best at the game aren’t perfect.
Don’t Give Up Because You’re Not Perfect
This year, the winning quarterback was Patrick Mahomes. In the game, he completed 21 of 27 passes. The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts completed 27 of 38 passes.
See? Not perfect.
I find that reassuring.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. When you talk to people about funding your mission, do you get a “yes” every time?
You don’t just stop doing these things when it doesn’t go your way.
During the season, MVP Mahomes completed just 67% of his passes (actually, that’s really good). I’m sure he’d love to be perfect, but he also knows there has never been a perfect game.
Nobody has ever started and finished a game without throwing an incomplete pass. Nobody.
Can you imagine if Patrick Mahomes went out to play, threw a couple of incomplete passes, and then said, “That’s it! We obviously need to just run the ball. No more passing, because I can’t complete every one.”
Your Real Job as the Fundraising Quarterback
If you’re the quarterback on your fundraising team, your job is simply to move the ball down the field. You aren’t trying for a touchdown on every play. Line up your team, and execute the appropriate play for the moment.
In fundraising, that means you’re doing the basics.
Communicating consistently with donors.
Getting your message in front of new people.
Thanking them when they give.
Ladies, and gentlemen, this is an email. This is a phone call. This is a face to face visit.
These are the basics that move us incrementally down the field, one play at a time.
Some of those incompletes have nothing to do with you. Other times, you need more practice, or training, or time with a coach. Maybe you’ve got an injury that keeps you from playing your best. If you’ve been hurt by something somebody said; if you’ve got ministry wounds, or you don’t have people encouraging you along the way, those are all things that need attention. It happens. It’s part of the game. Treat the wound. Do the basics.
Play by play.
Story by story.
I want to see you making those incremental steps. I want to see you getting better and better at telling stories and sharing with your donors, bringing people along with you, building out your team, your fanbase.
I’ll leave you with one more Vince Lombari quote:
“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
Keep doing the basics–with excellence. If you need training to tell your stories, check out Mission Writers.
Being a guest on podcasts is a great way to share your message, yet it’s not something I see a lot of ministry leaders doing. Here’s your guide to being a great podcast guest.
There are over 2 million podcasts, and over 60% of all US consumers listen to podcasts. People listen in their homes, in the car, while they’re out taking a walk or exercising, and at work. Podcasts are everywhere. In the previous episode, I interviewed Eric Nevins, founder of the Christian Podcasters Association. Eric shared how podcasts are an effective way to get your message out to more people.
Look at the advantages podcasts have:
Podcasts tend to have a loyal following
As a guest, you “borrow” the host’s credibility with their audience
Builds your reputation as an authority
Exposes you to new audiences
You can generally guest from anywhere in the world
Podcasts are evergreen – that show stays out there. Someone may listen the day it comes out – others weeks, months, and even years later.
Here are my tips for being a great podcast guest.
I get emails all the time from agencies and individuals trying to guest on Life and Mission, but I’ve never accepted an unsolicited pitch. What? Because these people have obviously NOT listened to this podcast. I mean, when have you heard me talk about crypto? Please don’t be like that.
Most podcasts have a process, either through an application, or some other channel. Check the podcast website. If you reach out by email, do so only after listening to two or three episodes, and only after identifying how you can serve that audience. The point of this article isn’t to teach you how to pitch yourself–that’s a whole thing in itself! Let’s just say don’t be a jerk. Don’t make assumptions, and show up with a heart to serve (not sell).
Now, let’s get you ready to be a great guest:
Follow the host’s process. Do what they ask you to do. Be ready to provide headshots, a short bio or introduction, and even a few suggested questions.
Listen to at least two or three episodes. Get to know how the show goes, their style, and the types of questions they typically ask.
Find out (listen & ask) if there are questions the host asks every guest so you can prepare your answer.
Practice what you’ll talk about, and tell stories!! Practice telling your key stories (ones that will resonate with this audience) without taking rabbit trails or rambling.
Get a microphone and learn how to use it. You can get a decent mic for about $100 (I use the ATR2100x) (affiliate link)
Use earphones or earbuds to prevent echo on the recording.
Don’t use a shared WiFi (coffee shop, etc.) if possible. Wired connections are more reliable than Wifi. Plan ahead.
Dress professionally. Be prepared to be on video.
Make sure your background isn’t distracting (visually, and audibly)
Watch your lighting (don’t sit with a window in the background, etc.)
Turn off your phone, or silence it and turn off notifications.
Be on time, ready, with your tech tested – EVERY TIME
Pay attention to cues from the host
Speak with confidence.
Match the tone of the show (another reason to listen).
Stay engaged with the conversation.
Show up to serve the audience and the host.
If you have a CTA or a gift/offer, ask before recording if you can share it (usually at the end). It’s really nice to offer something specifically for that audience.
Don’t continually refer to your offer or hint at giving/support for your cause.
Thank the host. You may send a card or even a small gift of appreciation afterwards.
Promote the podcast in your channels (social media, email, etc.).
If you do these things, you’ll be well on your way as a podcast guest. As you become known as someone who is easy to work with and who serves the audience, chances are podcast hosts will be willing to refer you to others.
End-of-year fundraising may be over, but that only sets up some key messaging for January. In this episode, I’ll give you three key messages to send donors in January (plus a bonus).
After the big year-end fundraising campaign, it’s tempting to let out a big sigh of relief and sit back for a bit. But you’ve built momentum over the last few months, and you don’t want to drop it now. Send these messages to donors in January to keep them engaged in the new year.
Use giving statements to build relationships.
There is one obvious piece of mail you need to get out to donors this month–that’s the giving statement. You need to send these out for anyone who gave $250 or more. But don’t just send out a dry financial statement with a boring letter that says, “Here’s your statement.”
That is a missed opportunity.
That giving statement is a cause for celebration! Send a letter with the statement that essentially says, “Look at what you did last year!” Remind those donors of the impact their gifts had. The accomplishments, the souls reached, the lives saved, whatever your mission is, let your donors know their donations are STILL being celebrated, and there is more work to do. You’re excited they’re with you, because xy and z still need to be done.
Thank everyone who donated to your nonprofit in the past year (not just in December – and not just those who gave more than $250). But don’t stop at monetary gifts.
Remember to thank the people who donated their time and energy. Volunteers give you their TIME. Don’t ever forget that we can make more money, but we cannot make more time. Volunteers are giving you something they can never get back. Their time is a precious gift.
Sometimes fundraisers tell me it feels strange to thank people who haven’t made a donation. Thank them anyway. You have people praying for you who never tell you they’re doing it. You have people who tell their friends, who mention you and who share your social media posts. You never know. Thank everyone for being with you and sharing your mission. It never hurts to show a spirit of gratitude.
Make an extra effort to welcome new donors.
During year-end fundraising, you’ve picked up new donors and you only have a tiny window to invite them into a deeper relationship. From Thanksgiving to year’s end, between 70% and 75% of one-time donations are from brand new donors.
Brand new donors don’t know you well.
Brand new donors can quickly forget you and move on to the next thing.
Brand new donors, if you haven’t thanked them properly, may feel unappreciated or even duped. These will likely leave and not come back.
More than 80% of new donors will never give again.
Is that because new donors are just flighty and fickle, or do new donors (everybody, really) need to be nurtured and cared for and loved so that they want to be more involved?
Give your new donors some extra love. Thank them for that gift–again! And send them a welcome packet and an email welcome series that tells them more about your vision and how they can be involved. The goal is to build relationship and nudge them toward a second gift.
Prepare them for what’s to come.
Your thank you message should include something about what they can expect from your organization in the months ahead, and remind them how their support makes this possible. Add a personal touch by pointing out initiatives you know that donor is likely to be interested in joining.
If someone donated to your Spring fundraising campaign, send them a thank you message along with a reminder that you’re running a similar campaign again this year. If they like to give to matching campaigns, let them know when your next matching campaign is.
You can combine these messages in any way it makes sense for you and your mission. Just remember every message helps keep you and your mission top of mind.
Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we planned. When that happens, use the opportunity to invite donors to have a closer look at the important work you do.
We love a good transformation story: someone was hurting. Things were all wrong. Then your donors stepped up and your organization did life-changing work. Those stories are powerful and effective, and we love to tell them.
But what if things didn’t turn out so well?
How do we tell a story when it’s just the beginning of a long process of change?
How do we tell stories when we don’t know the ending?
I believe some of our internal conflict over these stories is our fear of giving donors a not-so-perfect picture of our mission. On the one hand, we’re seen as the experts. But really, there are so many factors beyond our control. We cannot fix it all.
I’m not talking about taking responsibility when we mess up (more on that another time). I’m thinking about those interventions where we did our best, and it seemed like things were okay. We saw change. We may have shared a story from a beneficiary who made a radical turnaround because of our work. But a few months later, they were right back in that unhealthy situation. Do you tell that story?
You probably don’t want to (or need to) highlight that person’s personal setbacks. But there are stories you can tell around the experience:
Explain the process of change your beneficiaries go through.
Focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it’s such a hurdle.
Share a story about the setting that causes difficulties in the change process.
Feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles.
This works for unfinished stories, too. For complicated stories, and for slow change. Use setbacks and the unknown to invite your donors to draw close. You’ll be glad you did.